10/18/17

Religious rituals surround death

Share

Headstones at Catholic Cemetery No. 1 in Victoria.

By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Inside Memory Gardens, a well-groomed cemetery off Cuero Highway, marked graves and floral arrangements pay tribute to the lives of thousands of Victorians who have died.

Near the rear of the grounds, 50 plots have been reserved for members of the Victoria Islamic Center.

Even though many Islamic communities throughout the United States bury members in Islamic-only cemeteries, Victoria Islamic Center Imam Osama Hassan said the 50 plots in Memory Gardens fit the needs of the community.

“It has worked out perfect for us. It’s the right size for our needs for the future,” he said, mentioning the small size of its congregation.

Like many other religious sects in South Texas, including Christianity and Judaism, Islam has its own unique rituals for burying the dead.

Often, Islamic communities purchase their own cemeteries, especially if they are part of large communities of Muslims or live in larger cities. But death is an important part of life and how a Muslim is honored in death is especially important for believers.

“The Prophet Mohammed tells us to talk about death because it’s a part of life. But many people are afraid to. Some people feel if they talk about it, it’s like bad luck, like someone they know may die,” he said. mentioning the cultural aspect of international Muslims from various countries around the world who are reluctant to discuss or plan for death. “We should be talking more about it.”

Islamic members are not the only community in Victoria with special requirements for death.

In downtown Victoria, off Vine Street, a Jewish cemetery dating back to the mid-1800s indicates some of the city’s earliest residents were Jewish, including the first Jew to settle in Victoria, Abraham Levi, who established one of the city’s earliest grocery stores on Main Street.

Catholic and early Protestant cemeteries also remain pervasive throughout the region, established in the early 1800s as settlers moved in and established churches and parishes.

The Rev. Max Landman, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hallettsville, said Catholic funerals are distinct, in part because of their reverence for the dead.

“The main thing, with respect to a Catholic funeral, is we’re there to pray for the soul of the dead person. A lot of times, it can be seen as a celebration of the person’s life – and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the person’s life – but the point of the funeral from the Catholic’s perspective is to commend that soul to God,” Landman said. “We firmly believe that our prayers for that person, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass are helpful in obtaining mercy and speeding that person’s soul into paradise.”

As Halloween approaches, a time of year that gives a not-so-subtle nod to death, cemeteries and afterlife, the season offers a unique opportunity to examine the customs of area religions as they honor the members of their congregations in the religious context they acknowledge.

Here are a few of the many death traditions of Catholics, Muslim and Jewish believers around the world.

In most religions, tombstones and grave markers are permitted and visited by the living.

Islam
When a Muslim dies, the body should be buried as soon as possible. Three to four hours is preferable, up to one day, but no longer than 48 hours. The bodies are not embalmed, and careful consideration is given to treatment of the body because Muslims believe the person can still hear and feel pain.

Autopsies and cremations are not acceptable for this reason; however, organ donation may be permitted in some circumstances because it is seen as a charitable event.

Instead, Muslims are washed with soap and water and wrapped in a white cloth. Men prepare male deceased, while women prepare female deceased.

It is preferable that Muslims not be placed in a casket at all, allowing the dead to return immediately to the dirt.

Overseas, Muslims are buried directly in the ground. In the U.S., caskets are required, so Muslims typically place the coffin upside down to encapsulate the body once it is placed in the ground. Bodies must lie on their side and point toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The typical mourning period is three days, and believers are encouraged to return to normal life. This varies depending on each person, with some wearing black for many years in remembrance of a loved one.

Catholics
Priests are called both right before and after death to pray the appropriate rites over the body.

Vigils are usually held on the evening before Mass, and there is often a praying of the rosary. This is typically the place where eulogies and tributes are delivered.

Caskets can be covered with white linens, or palls, and blessed with holy water as a reminder of baptism.

Bodies are allowed to be embalmed, however organ donation and cremation remain areas of disagreement among Catholics. It is preferred if cremation is being performed that the body not be cremated until after the funeral Mass, so the deceased can be present in the church for the service.

At burial, the Rite of Committal is given at the blessed burial site. The Lord’s Prayer is typically said upon closing.

Judaism
When a Jew dies, the “Dayan HaEmet” prayer is recited, which acknowledges God as the true judge.

Jewish tradition prefers the body be laid to rest as soon as possible, as soon as one day, so funeral planning often begins immediately.

It is also preferable the body not be unattended and is often given a “shomer” or guardian.

If funerals cannot be held right away, exceptions can be made. Sometimes, the body is refrigerated while waiting on the funeral.

Bodies are typically washed and dressed. Men wash men and women wash women. The washing is called the “taharah.” The submerging of the body in water for the ritual bath is the “mikvah.”

The body is fully dried and dressed in a simple white cloth called a “tachrichim.” Men are typically buried in a “kippah” or skull cap, and also a “tallit” or prayer shawl.

Jews tend to avoid holding funerals on holy days or Saturdays.

Organ donation is generally accepted and seen as a good deed. Autopsies and embalming are generally not accepted unless required by law.

Cremation may be accepted depending on the degree of orthodoxy of the Jewish family. Orthodox Jews do not permit cremation, while conservative and reformed Jews may allow it.

Jews are placed in a simple pine casket without any metal, and sometimes holes are drilled in the bottom of the box to accelerate decomposition. There is generally no wake or visitation in the Jewish faith. Funerals are held in the synagogue, at the grave or funeral home, and include a eulogy, reading of the psalms, and the memorial prayer, “El Maleh Rachamim.”

It is customary for the tombstone or grave marker to be put up one year after the death. A stone is usually placed on the grave within the first 30 days to indicate someone has visited.

Complete Article HERE!

Share
09/10/17

The Prophet and Secrets To A Good Death

Share

I stared at her blood results for a few seconds too long. I felt crushed, my shoulders sagged and I realised that my face had given it all away.

By

The patient couldn’t speak now, but she motioned to my pen. I handed it to her with her own notes – a mistake in retrospect. I need not have worried as she was in no fit state to read. She scribbled on words that broke my heart.

“Doctor, I’m dying aren’t I?”

I whispered back “Yes.”

She nodded; a large tear fell down the side of her face. I tried hard to stop my own tears falling too.

I wasn’t emotional because she was dying, as a doctor you unfortunately get used to death very quickly. No, I was upset because of how she was dying. She was in pain, she was struggling to take breaths, and her family had not yet arrived in their own car as the ambulance had managed to cut through traffic and they hadn’t.

I held her hand as her breaths became shallower, only stepping away when her husband and children finally made it to her bedside just as she slipped away.

It’s difficult to argue that this was a good death. This lady had spent her last moments surrounded by strangers, in a cold and uncomfortable emergency room bed and with the cacophony of hospital equipment as the last sounds in her ears. Her relatives had to give rushed goodbyes.

A bad death

Scenes like this play out every single minute of every single day across the world. In fact, for something we’ve been doing since the beginning of time and despite all the advancements in medical science – the human race is remarkably bad at dying.

The odds are that most of us reading this article will pass away in a manner that leaves much to be desired. [1] We may be taken to a hospital even though there was little to no benefit in doing so, passing away in an ambulance or an emergency room with tubes stuck down our throats and needles in our arms while medics surround us decide what the next move will be and how they’ll break the news to our shocked families, even if all the signs had been pointing towards this for months or even years.

Death is difficult enough without the often-preventable complications that make it more painful and stressful than it needs to be. Even though we don’t talk about it much, there is such a thing as having a “good death.” [2]

What is a “good death”?

A “good death” – the very term seems like the ultimate oxymoron. After all, what can be good about death? It’s the ultimate in bad news. In fact, on a scale of bad things that can happen to someone, death seems likely to be the worst.

Yet, as anyone who has come across death on a regular basis will tell you, there are such things as good and bad deaths. An entire medical speciality called Palliative Care was created to facilitate the former.

From an Islamic perspective a good death is one in which the person dies with Allah being pleased with him or her, or engaged in an action or at a time that is considered pious. [3], [4] While we can never know who is in possession of divine favour, we do know that the Prophet mentioned certain times, modes and places of deaths as having special significance. For example, I remember vividly recalling that family members of Hujjaj, who died in the horrific tunnel collapse of 1990, were comforted by the fact that their relatives died on holy land whilst on the pilgrimage.

However, the commonly held Muslim view of a good death is lacking. It almost entirely revolves around the unknowable relationship between the deceased and Allah, while neglecting more practical temporal aspects. For the purposes of this essay, I want to explore the practical side of a “good death” and show that this is actually part of a neglected Prophetic tradition that we can and should revive.

A good death is described as any passing in which an individual dies as peacefully as possible, in accordance with their wishes and according to their own ethical, cultural or religious standards. [5] This includes dying free of pain, in a location of their preference (usually divided into one of the 3 H’s – home, hospital or hospice) and surrounded by their loved ones rather than medical and nursing staff.

It doesn’t sound complicated does it?

Yet, every single day, the majority of people die in just the opposite way.

So, how do we achieve a good death?

I went looking for inspiration from Islamic history and found answers hidden in plain sight. The clues are scattered throughout the life of the Prophet himself, like scattered pearls of wisdom waiting for us to put them together into a coherent whole.

You can divide the steps required into 6 steps:

  1. Thinking and talking about death

There are many ways of achieving a good death, but they all have the same first step. We need to be prepared to think about it, but in a way that empowers rather than paralyzes us. We need to make it less of a taboo.

The Prophet was the master of this. He used to think about death often and asked us to do the same, but was never accused of being morbid. He taught us, “Remember often, the destroyer of pleasures.” [6]

By bringing talking about death back into polite conversation and into the family life, we remove it from being solely the domain of the mosque and imam. It may mean taking the kids to a funeral or talking to your parents about the funeral arrangements for a recently departed grandparent. Whatever entry point you use, remembering death will help you plan about it.

  1. The warning shot

A warning shot is the first difficult discussion that people have about an impending death. This is when bad news is delivered in a step-wise process so that the impact is less severe on those affected.

Doctors are trained to do this by lowering the tone of their voice, getting the patient worried by asking if they would like to have someone there with them and to generally appear gravely concerned. We then impart the warning shot – usually something as simple as “I’m afraid I have bad news” – and give time for the patient to absorb this before delivering the bad news. [7]

This occurred quite obviously in retrospect with Allah giving the Prophet several warning shots with increasing clarity that his life was drawing to a close. First, Jibreel went through the Quran with the Prophet twice instead of the usual once during their Ramadan reviews. Beyond this, Allah revealed that religion had been “perfected” thereby making the role of the Prophet complete.

In turn, the Prophet passed on these warning shots to us, his community at various opportunities including at Hajj Al Wida and in his khutbas at Masjid Nabawi.

Warning shots are important. They allow us to prepare for the worst-case scenario, rather than live in hope and find ourselves woefully unprepared when the time comes.

  1. Choosing where and how you would like to be cared for in your final illness

The location where one dies is obviously not something everyone has the luxury of choosing. However, for most natural deaths, this is something important and despite most people preferring to die at home, this is not achieved.

The sad truth is that, again, we will spend more time thinking about the hotel room that we stayed in 5 nights in during a holiday years ago than where we would like to see out our final days.

The Prophet was concerned about where he would be during his final illness. He asked rhetorically, “Where shall I stay tomorrow?” multiple times until his wives understood that he wanted to choose where he wanted to stay rather than switching rooms every evening as was his usual custom. He chose for himself the room of Aisha  [8]

A good death isn’t necessarily a pain free one, but it certainly is one in which unnecessary suffering is avoided if the patient wishes. Again, the medical profession has advanced far enough that no one should suffer unduly in his or her final moments, but because patients are unaware as to what is available to them, they continue to suffer. [9]

  1. How should your funeral be conducted?

The rulings on Muslim funerals are fairly specific. So specific, in fact, that we make the mistake of thinking that there isn’t room for personalisation. There clearly is, even if it is limited. Everything from choosing whom you would like to lead your Janazah prayer, at which mosque and who should lower you into the ground can often give people a sense of peace and familiarity with a daunting reality.

The Prophet did the same. He had asked that his body be washed using water from the well of Ghars, presumably because he liked the sweet taste of the water there. Amr ibn Al As asked to be buried with fragments of the Prophets nails in his mouth and under his eyelids. Ottoman Sultans would occasionally be buried with pieces of the Kaaba kiswa on them.

As long as it remains within the boundaries of accepted tradition, it can be comforting to know that you had some say in how your funeral would be conducted.

  1. Where should you be buried?

This is an important decision and for most of us, it won’t matter much because – well, we won’t have to worry about it. However, there is a strong indication that where someone is buried does matter almost as much as where they lived in life. Many a necropolis has sprung up around the tomb of a pious man or a companion of the Prophet like Jannat Al Mualla in Makkah, Eyup Sultan in Istanbul and Bab Al Saghir in Damascus. [10]

It was the cause of much consternation to the sahaaba that they did not know where to bury the Prophet . The relief that was felt by all, when it was discovered that the Prophet had mentioned to Abu Bakr that all Messengers are buried where they die, is palpable. Take a moment to reflect on that conversation. In a mark of how difficult the conversation is, even the Prophet (SAW) didn’t directly tell Abu Bakr where he would like to be buried, but instead made a general statement about all Prophets. This way, he got his point across to his close friend but minimised the heartache.

  1. How should your estate be divided after death?

Inheritance laws in Islam are strictly governed and regulated leaving limited scope for people to go wrong. But unfortunately, most Muslims living in non-Muslim countries, do not have formal wills written up. This means that their estates are at risk of being divided according to the law of the land they die in.

The Prophet was concerned about what would happen to his estate after he died, but his estate was not just the physical objects he left behind. It included the spiritual legacy of the Islamic faith. Therefore, he repeatedly mentioned for Muslims to guard the prayer and to look after the ladies of their house. [11] Not only that, it was clear that he went as far as he could towards nominating Abu Bakr to lead us after his death without actually commanding it.

While you should definitely prepare a will for your physical possessions, also consider your legacy beyond that. Who should educate your children? What advice do we have for them when they grow up? What should happen to our collection of books? Which charities would you like some of your endowments to go to and for what cause?

Your life is so much more than just the money and materials that gets divided up after you die. If you are lucky, those who survive you may try and keep your legacy alive. They would find it much easier if you gave them some directions beforehand.

Conclusion

In the end, the best way to attain a good death is to live a good life – a. A life that is lived in the service of others for the sake of Allah, a life in which there is real meaning and purpose and a life in which death is remembered.

As a Muslim, I know that a good death is one in which Allah is pleased with the person dying. As a doctor, I know a good death is one in which the patient is comfortable and surrounded by their family, not me. As a human being, I know a good death is one that comes after having added value to the lives of my fellow human beings. These are not mutually exclusive and the life of the Prophet (SAW) gives evidence for being able to combine all three.

As the old poem goes, we all have a rendezvous with death. Why not make it a good one?

Complete Article HERE!

Share
12/30/16

How funeral traditions differ across Abrahamic religions

Share

Funeral practices are deeply integrated in culture, reflecting beliefs and values around death. Offering an index of religion, funeral traditions in Abrahamic religions bear quite different stages as well as certain similarities

 

An Islamic funeral in Pakistan

By AYŞE BETÜL KAYAHAN

Having become a subject of philosophy, psychology, sociology as much as it has of anthropology and theology, mortality has always been a matter of interest throughout history as well in the present day. There is even a scientific field named “thanatology,” the science of death.

The anthropology of death brings us the very different funerary customs that have been in practice throughout history.

To start with a common example, ancient Egyptians used to embalm the deceased and built giant pyramids to house the embalmed bodies of their kings and pharaohs. Other interesting burial traditions include those of the ancient Greeks, recorded in anthropological records or literary works like those in Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey.”

As far as can be understood from historical accounts telling about the funeral of Attila the Hun, ancient Turks used to show their grief by hurting themselves. Before the 6th century, Turks were burning the deceased with their belongings and horses, and keeping the ashes to bury in autumn or spring. Certain Chinese and Arabic accounts report that it was the Kirghiz people who were the first Turks to burn the body. However, it was after this century that Turks began to bury their deceased.

In Iran, dead bodies used to be buried before the arrival of Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism). Fire, soil, air and the water are considered as sacred in Mazdaism and the body must not pollute any of these four elements. There was no burning or burying but the deceased used to be abandoned outside. The same tradition was visible among the Sasanians, as they used to abandon the dead outside and bury the separated bones and flesh in a special containers called “Ossuarium” later on. Today modern Mazdaists bury their deceased. “Burial customs always have been an index of religion,” American scholar Richard Nelson Frye says.

According to Abrahamic religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the appropriate way is to bury the deceased. It is believed that Cain (Qabil), the eldest son of Adam killed his brother Abel (Habil) and committed the first crime of murder. It was the first death on the earth and the first burial. It is still observed that Muslim and Jewish communities bury deceased people as a funerary custom following the order of the Quran and Torah. Cremation and embalming are strictly forbidden by Islam and Judaism. In both religions, burials take place as quickly as possible to honor the dead. Jews never hold a funeral on “Shabbat,” while there is no similar restriction in Islam.

Muslims and Jews prepare the body for burial by washing the body with warm water from head to feet. Jews call this process “Tahara.” Muslims apply “ghusl,” or the ritual of ablution. While washing, the body can be turned from one side to another to entirely clean it but it is never placed face down. In Islam and Judaism, the body is dressed in white burial shrouds and put in a simple wooden casket. Men prepare men and women prepare women.

In Islam, a person who is about to die is expected to say the “Shahada,” or the testimony of faith, which translates to, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” His family or close friends should encourage him to say it because it is regarded as one of the first pillars of Islam.

When the person dies, those present close the deceased’s eyes and cover the body with a clean sheet. Someone is expected to read the Quran. As soon as the “ghusl” and shrouding are done, the deceased’s coffin is taken to the mosque for the funeral prayer “Salat al-Janazah,” which is a communal duty among Muslims.

The deceased person is put in front of the imam and the community behind him faces to the “qibla,” the direction of Mecca, in the courtyard of the mosque. When the prayer ends, the casket should be transported to the cemetery for burial. The body should be placed in the grave on its right side, facing the qibla. A layer of wood is placed over the corpse and then the soil is filled. Following the burial service, the family of the deceased accepts visitors at home.

On the other hand, Jewish funerals take place at synagogues. A Jew who is a Cohen, a descendant of the priestly class, does not join the burial unless the deceased is a close relative since he is forbidden to come near the corpse. A Cohen is commanded to be in state of purity and avoid ritual defilement by a corpse which is ritually unclean.

Women wear conservative apparel and men wear jackets in dark color. The service is held by the rabbi and begins by cutting a black ribbon to symbolize the person’s leaving loved ones.

After the funeral service, people go to the cemetery where men carry the casket. With prayers, the deceased is put in the grave with the casket. Mourners tear their garments as an expression of grief, which is called “keriah.” They keep on doing it during the first mourning process called “shiva” which lasts seven days. In “shiva” mourners keep the traditions such as covering mirrors and lighting candles. People visit the home of bereaved. There the “kaddish” prayer is recited.

Once a Catholic dies, the priest visits the home with a cross and a vessel of holy water to sprinkle over the deceased’s body. There is no washing or bathing but embalming is acceptable. It is also an appropriate way for the viewing and wake and vigil, which is a period of spending time with deceased before the funeral service at home or a funeral home. Relatives and friends of the deceased come, praying and sharing the grief of the immediate family. This is the most appropriate time to eulogize as the “Requiem Mass” (Catholic Church service) does not permit eulogies.

During the wake, the body is put on display in a casket. When the casket is brought to the church, the priest leads the funeral mass. Holy water is sprinkled and there is an opening song and prayer, and a sermon takes place from the Bible and a psalm. When the mass is completed the coffin is taken to the graveyard for the rite of committal.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians, there are differences in the funeral service compared to Catholics. When an Orthodox is about to die, the priest should be there to hear the final confession and administer the “Holy Communion” to the person. The first step is preparing the body that includes washing and clothing. When the body is bathed and dressed, the priest sprinkles the holy water on the four sides of the casket before the body is placed inside. The priest reads the first “Panikhida” (a prayer service). The wake lasts three days and during this, the “Psalter” (The book of Psalms) is read out loud by family and friends.

After this, the body is brought to a church in a form of procession led by the cross. There the coffin is opened and a bowl of “Koliva” (a dish of boiled wheat with honey) is placed with a candle on top, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and the sweetness of heaven. A cross is placed in the deceased’s hand. Lit candles are distributed to those present in the funeral. The priest leads the “Divine Liturgy,” and recites “Memory Eternal.” Although saying goodbye differs in every society, from the preparation of the deceased to the disposal, the arrangements and funeral services in between actually show us all these funerary customs are important as much as for the bereaved of the deceased. The importance given to funerals is universal for honoring the deceased and consoling and sharing the pain of loss as well at the end of the day.

Complete Article HERE!

Share